How to Learn Anything in the Age of AI
We’re now exiting a long era of skill specialization, when workers could flow through entire careers in the same field, if not the same job. Now, machines are better than us at performing specialized and repetitive tasks.
But, while machine intelligence may replace workers in many jobs, some experts -- like Miguel Nicolelis, the co-founder of Duke University's Center for Neuroengineering -- say that no engineering can ever replicate the capacity of a human brain. Consciousness does not work in an algorithmic, digital way. By tapping our innate ingenuity and adaptability, we can guide intelligent machines and create new work. It’s on us to learn how to learn anything.
1. Find your transferable skills.
Individuals and companies must get better at transferring knowledge from one field and applying it in another. It’s less important to specialize than to recognize equivalents across disciplines. Are you a coal miner who excels at working in teams, handling complicated engineering technology and focusing on one thing at a time? If so, the founders of Bit Source believe that you could also be a great coder.
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In another example, the Tesla Gigafactory needed tilt-rotor helicopter mechanics to work on construction. Positing that military veterans with that skill might not be aware of how it could transfer, Tesla used targeted ads on RallyPoint, a networking site for the military and veteran community, and sussed out likely candidates.
Take inventory of what you know and what skills you have, and then start imagining how they could apply or transfer in different contexts. The internet is a “choose-your-own-adventure” of learning options, ranging from Wikipedia, instructional videos on YouTube and online courses from Coursera, Udemy and EdX.
2. Release your inner autodidact.
The Renaissance revitalized humans’ interest in self-directed learning, especially across diverse knowledge sets and skills. Just think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work in art and science. We’re in an analogous time today. Traditional education denotes expertise with letters after your name, but businesses engaged in rapid innovation are recognizing the value that self-taught people, or autodidacts, bring to the table.
Becoming a casual expert is more than simply geeking out and taking a few online courses. Practice is key to how human brains retain and improve knowledge. As learning expert Eduardo Briceño described in his TED Talk “How to get better at the things you care about,” people tend to master something conceptually, and then go straight to execution without being good at it. Although the temptation to wing it -- to “make it up as you go” -- is strong in our fast-paced world, you must intentionally practice learning to move knowledge and skills into long-term memory. There are critical differences between an enthusiastic amateur and high-functioning autodidact.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
What does intentional practice look like? Essentially, it looks "lean" (experiment, measure, iterate). The methodology for entrepreneurs has proven applicable to learning across fields like healthcare and higher education -- industries where training and improving knowledge is a daily process. Some of the most innovative companies study an issue from every conceivable angle to form, test and solidify their knowledge of an issue. Beyond learning as students, they can play the part of teachers and their own dissertation committee.
When repetitive practice gets boring (because it does), think like a "freak" or apply game tactics to keep up enthusiasm and curiosity. Remember, learning happens when we overcome challenges. In his TED Talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant talks about how fear and anxiety in the right amounts can spur creativity. Discover what works for you and discard what doesn’t. Do it mindfully and skip analysis paralysis.
4. Nurture your emotional intelligence.
Much is being said about the importance of emotional intelligence in the age of AI. Social behavior requires neural capabilities that machine algorithms cannot replicate. Alan Turing never designed a test for creating inside jokes or analogies to explain the quasi-religious feelings associated with seeing a provocative piece of art.
Remember, learning by cataloging is just the beginning; reliably applying knowledge in any context is the goal. Deepening emotional intelligence will help you abstract knowledge by analogy and apply it reliably in new situations, even ones that appear to be unrelated or unknown. Embrace social networking and take time to become conversant in the communication styles and points of view of other professionals and areas of expertise.
Technology will continue changing how people acquire knowledge, but the fundamentals of human learning have not changed since “Renaissance man/woman” became a metaphor for polymath. Humans will continue to be makers and pathfinders in entirely new, AI-supported contexts.
Jobs will certainly change over the next 10 to 20 years in the face of AI. The people who thrive will have interdisciplinary skills and an eclectic outlook. You don’t have to be an expert in everything; just remember how to learn anything.